History & Achievements

The MacGill Summer School has been in existence for thirty-nine years.

It was founded in 1981 in Glenties, Co. Donegal to celebrate the memory of local writer, Patrick MacGill.  MacGill wrote in the early 20th century on the social conditions in Donegal, the plight of migrant workers in Britain and the horrors of the Great War in which he fought as a soldier of the London Irish Rifles.  His books are still being published.

The school has grown from very modest beginnings to being one of the most important fora in Ireland for the analysis of topics of national and international interest. It has consistently been a source of innovative and fresh thinking on a range of social, economic and political ideas.   It brings together government ministers, members of the opposition parties, heads of business, academics, economists, sociologists, church leaders, members of the judiciary and public representatives from Northern Ireland.

The school has been successfully positioned as a “broad church” open to all points of view with easy access by the general public.  Audiences come from all over Ireland and abroad, and from a wide range of backgrounds.  Extensive media coverage means that the debates reach a national and international audience and the live webcasting since 2010 makes it accessible to people everywhere.  This year we are on Twitter with the hashtag #MacGill2017 and we look forward to lively debate online.

One of the attractions of MacGill is its openness.  It is open to anyone to join in and engage with major public figures by asking questions and proposing answers.  Hallmarks of the school are its complete impartiality, rigour and objectivity, as well as the choice of contributors.

An additional feature of the MacGill School’s activities has been the inauguration in 2001 of the Annual John Hume Lecture as a tribute to the Nobel laureate and former leader of the SDLP.

Read more about the John Hume Lecture.


An edited version of the MacGill proceedings has been published every year until 2011. They are a significant source for postgraduate students in particular.

View list of publications.

Cultural Programme

The school has honoured artists and writers during their lifetime including:

  • Peadar O’Donnell
  • Derek Hill
  • T.P. Flanagan
  • Liam McCormick
  • Brian Friel

Poets such as the late Seamus Heaney, Paul Durcan, Matthew Sweeney,  Michael D Higgins, Tom Paulin and Theo Dorgan have given readings from their work.

Musicians such as John O’Conor have performed in Glenties as has the late mezzo-soprano, Bernadette Greevy.

Exhibitions have included: Patrick MacGill in the First World War, Remembering World War 1: The Donegal Story, The Flight of the Earls and Antique Maps of Ireland.

The Gate Theatre has presented Beckett in Glenties.  The Abbey Theatre has performed Dancing At Lughnasa, the Manchester Library Theatre has performed Faith Healer and Ouroboros Theatre Company has performed a rehearsed reading of The Burial at Thebes.

MacGill’s Contribution

The principal contribution of the School has been in the area of public policy – ranging across economic policy, social policy and political and public service reform.  The debates do not attempt to achieve consensus around stated positions but rather to stimulate interest in ideas and proposals and to provide a basis for action by leadership groups and individuals. The impact is not limited to participants in the School. The event is intensively covered by the Irish media. Contributions are reported and commented upon in the media and debates often persist, with attribution to the School, in commentary and analysis in the subsequent weeks and months.  Observations about the impact of the School include:

 It seems as if  for a week in July, public discourse leaves Leinster House and the media and re-locates to Glenties

Letter to the Editor, The Irish Times

I’ve noticed that contributors, particularly  politicians, avail of MacGill, to push out policy boats beyond previously settled positions.

Irish Independent

This was a seminar worthy of Harvard, Yale or Oxbridge.

The Irish Times

The Director Of The MacGill School

Dr Joe Mulholland with a local committee founded the school in 1981.  Born in Donegal, he was educated there and in the UK and France.  His doctoral thesis was on the medieval theatre in France and England.  After several years teaching in France, he joined Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) in 1970 as a trainee producer and went on to hold several senior positions including Editor of Current Affairs, Controller of Programmes, Director of News and Managing Director of Television.

He has been a regular contributor to the French media including the influential daily, Le Monde. He served as Chairman of the News Section of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) 1993-7 and was Chairman of Radio Television Kosovo (RTK) 2001-2.   He was named Donegal Person of the Year 2008-9.

Book your Tickets